Netflix has been releasing a number of limited series in recent years. A limited series is defined as a program with fewer episodes than a traditional television series.
There is generally only one season with an entire story wrapped up fully. Each has a clear beginning, middle and end. They don't usually have two seasons so thankfully there are no cliffhangers!
The term usually applies to programs that air on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But what exactly is a ‘Limited Series' and what does it mean for the viewer?
Traditional TV shows typically have around 22-24 episodes per season. By comparison, limited series tend to have only 6-8 episodes. This smaller number of episodes often gives a shorter series a more focused feel.
On the world's biggest TV and movie streaming service, certain programs are being marketed as a ‘limited series' but we still need to know exactly what that means.
LIMITED SERIES – WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The definition of a ‘Limited Series' is a show that will conclude in the last episode, with a guarantee that no extra seasons will be produced. We also know them as miniseries.
They are original series and an increasingly prominent form of a TV show especially for streaming services, particularly Netflix and AmazonPrime.
WHAT'S THE BENEFIT OF A LIMITED SERIES?
Netflix Limited series, and those from other companies, are often more cost-efficient than continuing an ongoing show, which can require hiring cast members on multi-year deals. Though they have been criticized for being less original.
However, this criticism is largely unfounded. Netflix limited series such as The Queen's Gambit starring Anya Taylor Joy, The English Game (Kevin Guthrie) and Godless have been widely acclaimed for their originality.
With a limited series, it generally means that there is no risk of a show getting worse over time. With some running at only six episodes long, viewers don't have to make a huge time investment in a show.
Limited series are an excellent way to bridge the gap between movies and a full-blown series. A storyline might be too long to cram into a 120-160 min movie but not long enough to run for 22 episodes.
Of course, there are also a lot of advantages for actors who don't want to commit to long-running shows.
A short-term project that takes only a month to complete is more appealing to big-name actors who have several productions underway at the same time.
Plus delving into a dramatisation of a true story such as The Central Park Five in a show such as When They See Us is incredibly rewarding for all involved.
BIG NAMES IN LIMITED SERIES
Using this format, Netflix and Amazon have been able to entice many of Hollywood's biggest names to star in their limited series.
A-listers such as Emma Stone (Maniac), Toni Collette (Unbelievable), Jeff Daniels (Godless), Sacha Baron Cohen (The Spy) to name just a few.
POPULAR LIMITED SERIES ON NETFLIX
Some of the most popular limited series on Netflix include Alias Grace (starring Sarah Gadon and Edward Holcroft), Clickbait, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, The Spy and the recent drama Maid starring Margaret Qualley.
Netflix Original, Unbelievable (written by Susannah Grant and starring Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Eric Lange) was nominated for 40 different awards and is still one of the best original series produced by the streaming platform.
The most-watched Netflix show in the ‘limited' basket is The Queen's Gambit (written by Scott Frank), which currently holds the record for viewed limited series on Netflix, seen by 62 million accounts.
Emma Stone and Jonah Hill star in Maniac, a Netflix limited series written by Michael Chabon that premiered on Netflix in 2018 with 10 episodes. In the show, they play Annie and Owen, a couple of strangers who participate in an unusual pharmaceutical experiment.
And even if you don't love westerns, Godless is a superb miniseries. Set in the fictional town of La Belle, it follows the residents, mostly women, who must defend themselves against a gang led by outlaw Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels).
Also starring Michelle Dockery, Jack O'Connell, Merritt Wever and Sam Waterston, it was critically acclaimed and even won three Primetime Emmys.
And who can forget Unorthodox which was released in 2020. It is the story of a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman who leaves her arranged marriage to start a new life abroad. With only four episodes it stars Shira Haas and Jeff Wilbusch and even won a Primetime Emmy.
In the past year, we have seen even more successful miniseries added to the Netflix roster. Maid follows the life of a young mother who tries to escape an abusive relationship as she starts a new life.
POPULAR LIMITED SERIES ON AMAZON PRIME
Not to be outdone by Netflix, Amazon has recently been producing some fantastic limited series of its own. The miniseries Good Omens is based on the book by Terry Pratchett.
It tells the story of an angel Aziraphale (played by Michael Sheen) and a demon Crowley (David Tennant) teaming up to stop Armageddon, considering they rather like Earth as it is.
Good Omens is 6 episodes long with each episode lasting 50 minutes in length. While it is similar to Netflix limited Series Maniac in terms of excitement levels, Good Omens has more slapstick comedy elements.
Unlike most limited series, this has been given season two, hopefully with a brand new story that picks up where the first season ended.
There is limited series on Amazon Prime that will definitely meet everyone's taste, from comedy to action to serious drama with a twist. And if Good Omens isn't your cup of tea, there are plenty more limited series with different genres for you to choose from.
LIMITED SERIES DOCUMENTARY
Documentaries are a type of program that is perfect for the time scale of a limited series. There are all kinds of documentaries, nature, history, and of course true crime.
It was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.
However one of the most shocking documentaries in this category was Wild Wild Country. The Netflix Original dropped in 2018 causing quite the buzz.
It details what happened when Osho, a controversial guru, built what he considered to be a utopian town deep in Oregon. But when conflict with the locals escalated it became a national scandal.
With phone tapping, attempted murder and devotion all part of the wild country, you have to watch it to believe it!
Truth is often stranger than fiction and this crazy story is mixed with archival footage as well as interviews from those that lived in the town.
Like Wild Wild Country, some of the best miniseries often come in the form of Netflix documentaries. The stories are well researched, shocking and created for viewers who want to know what really happened in some of the most high profile cases and events.
LIMITED SERIES REVIEWS
We have 100s of reviews covering many of the top limited series from Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and AppleTV +.
We break down each series in terms of how much we liked it, our thoughts on what they did right and wrong, and why it might be worth watching.
And, we also encourage you to add your own review score and leave comments as we know that not everyone loves the same shows we do.
DO LIMITED SERIES HAVE MORE THAN ONE SEASON?
As the intention of a limited series is that a story will be resolved over 6 – 8 episodes. It's rare for a limited series to have more than one season.
However, there have been exceptions to that rule. For example, the documentary series Making A Murderer needed a second season when new information about the case came to light.
The Alienist proved so popular that although only one season was on the cards, they did make a second with a brand new story.
For drama and other types of shows, the route to a second, or even more seasons, is more difficult. In many cases, there’s no additional source material to create them.
For instance, the Netflix Limited Series, The Queens Gambit, is based on a single book but that hasn’t stopped other series, like Game of Thrones, from continuing past the point where the books concluded.
In theory, there is nothing stopping any of the streaming platforms from producing more seasons of a limited show – it's just not that common.
WHAT'S YOUR NEXT LIMITED SERIES TO BINGE?
We're big fans of limited series at this site, and we want to recommend a series that you might want to watch and enjoy. So below we've included a few of our favorites.